A ROOM FULL OF GARBAGE IDEAS

rumson-dpwA public works employee picks up recycling in Rumson last week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

If you ask the residents who filled borough hall Tuesday night, there are plenty of ways to keep Rumson’s half-dozen trash collectors employed in the face of tight budgets.

Make cuts across every department, hold annual fundraisers, reduce collections to once a week, work out a deal to pick up trash in Fair Haven, which plans to outsource its collection.

Or, instead of soliciting bids to demolish the old police headquarters, sell the property as-is and use the money to bankroll public works, said “Uncle” Bob Fazzone.

“Then you get the $200,000 for the boys,” he said.

The input residents gave the council will be part of the borough’s research on whether to privatize its garbage collection, a move that’s anticipated to save between $200,00 and $350,000 a year, Council President Shaun Broderick said.

“Most of (the suggestions) are very useful for us going forward,” Mayor John Ekdahl said, after hearing nearly an hour from the public. “We all got a lot of good ideas from it.”

That doesn’t change the fact that the borough will continue to look for savings in an anticipated difficult budget season next year, when a two-percent property tax cap is implemented. With increases to health insurance and benefits costs, the six DPW workers assigned to pick up garbage in town stand to lose their jobs should Rumson bring in a private company.

“The Marpal employees of the world make half what the Rumson employees get. That’s the issue,” Ekdahl said. “We realize if this were an easy decision, it’s be simple. We’d do it.”

More than brainstorming ways to keep Rumson’s employees, residents voiced opposition to the idea of outsourcing pickups, because, they argued, the workers do more than just collect trash. Many volunteer with the first aid squad and fire department,  provide a sense of security to residents and, as many said, their service is top-notch.

Fair Haven aside, Rumson is the last town in the area to make the move to private collection, Ekdahl said. The new tax cap is going to force municipalities to comb through budgets and make tough choices every year, he said.

But it bothers resident Katie Johnson that Rumson is looking at privatization because other towns are doing it. The “others are” argument, she said, is the “biggest hook to sell.”

“Why this department? Why not other departments?” she asked. “It doesn’t make sense to make one department take a hit. It doesn’t seem fair.”

The council maintains that it’s looking at all departments to trim costs, but the garbage collection portion of the budget could yield significant savings.

However, the council is now armed with more options now that the public has spoken. And Councilman Frank Shanley is working with public works to find savings elsewhere to try and eliminate the possibility of layoffs, he said.

“I’m confident that a mutually satisfactory solution can be reached,” he said.